July 3rd, 2011

Across from the gas station, where the little blue house used to be

New England is infamous for giving directions to place via ex-landmarks, which is what that subject line is intended to convey. Also, I've blogged before about the little blue house and how T. and I saw it torn down and the site increasingly reduced: first the trees gone, then down to the really big rocks and R. says they've drilled holes for blasting.

While a permit has obviously been posted, I haven't stopped to look at it, particularly since T. has decided he'd rather take a different route home. But a big sign went up, which led me to this website:

http://sarahjanecourt.com/

The front page is (I think) a flash slideshow, starting with "Similar to Be Built" photos of townhomes, followed by pictures of the strip mall across the street (including the excellent Not Your Average Joe's) and conspicuously not showing the gas station immediately across the street. Hmmm. I wonder why. The balance of the photos focus on family-oriented and/or prestigious features of our town: playgrounds, Nara Park and Beach, playgrounds, ball fields, tennis courts, trails, historic buildings and monuments, the Discovery Museum, Arboretum, etc.

The paragraph introducing the properties is quite brilliant:

"Introducing Sarah Jane Court, a brand new ENERGY STAR CERTIFIED 6 townhome community in one of Acton's premier locations! Sarah Jane Court is within walking distance to the top rated Acton-Boxboro school campus, shopping and resturants and has easy access to Rtes 2 and 495 as well as the Boston Commuter Rail! Modern upscale amenities for the most discerning buyer who appreciates the rewards of condo living. Three bedroom floor plans, highlighted with granite kitchens, stainless steel appliances, hardwood floors, gas fireplaces, garages and town sewer!"

Remember: there was one, fairly small, one story blue house on this site before. Another item not shown in the slideshow (I'm still trying to figure out why Exchange Hall is in the slideshow, other than that it is Beautiful) is the neighboring, recently built group of townhomes. This is densification in action, and it is being sold to families ("top rated Acton-Boxboro school campus") whose parents commute: "access to Rtes 2 and 495 as well as the Boston Commuter Rail" (sic). Obviously if you are on 2, you have access to 495. And this location is _right on top of 2_. I mean, not built on an overpass, but we're talking yards not miles to nearest entry/exit. I have to say, if there's an easy prediction to make in this life, it is that there will be more of whatever has happened recently -- and it is so satisfying when it is then promptly born out by real developments. So to speak. I'm not sure I would call this "one of Acton's premier locations", but then I'm not really cut out to sell anything, especially real estate.

If I were trying to sell this, I might have included pictures of Acton Medical Associates and the dental building and other health care offices within easy walking distance.

And they really do have finished basements in the floor plans.

They've got a lender (Wells Fargo) lined up, but are not revealing pricing yet. Initial attempts to find MLS listings have failed. I'm betting they are aiming at people moving in summer 2012. It looks like Concord Riverwalk has another of their units under agreement (and I can't find pricing information for them, either); that development seems to be aiming at a different demographic, however -- the family focus is substantially less than the Acton development.

ETA:

Not too far down the street from this is a site that Next Generation would like to build a day care center on. The location is attraction to the day care center for the exact same reason the location is attractive to Sarah Jane Court: awesome commuter availability in a place where lots of people have (a) children and (b) jobs. Acton more or less ran the developers out in 2009 with the understanding that they would keep coming back. Local politics around here is admirably transparent and more or less stamina driven: you'll probably get what you want if you're prepared to keep coming back and you'll probably be able to stop someone if you're prepared to fight it for a long, long time. I respect this approach to politics.

Of course, people actually involved in any specific issue tend to get a lot more excited about the process than I do. Here is the most recent coverage I've found at Wicked Local:

http://www.wickedlocal.com/acton/news/x43524453/Acton-board-stalls-vote-on-Next-Generation-Childrens-Center

I feel like something has happened since then; I'll keep looking. There was a bunch of 2009 coverage at the same site (and, IIRC, some Boston Globe coverage as well).

Oh yeah, here it is:

http://www.wickedlocal.com/acton/features/x1174964162/Board-rejects-revised-plan-for-Acton-daycare

Despite a lot of people showing up to object to the proposal, "town officials hope they and the proponent, developer Walker Realty, can still reach an agreement to that avoids a lengthy court battle, and satisfies concerns including the potential impact to traffic and the character of the area." And the reason for that is they know perfectly well that if this sucker goes to court and the town gets overruled (which is probable), then the developer can go back to the original, larger, more parking spaces, two story version of the plan (possibly without the left turn lane to mitigate traffic concerns). Which would be bad. There's at least some description of this action as leading directly to court, but I think that's a little overwrought.

April AAP Numbers

We left for northern New Hampshire the day after these numbers were released and came home with head colds that we are only now recovering from. Thus, I am behind.

Here is the press release:

http://www.publishers.org/press/38/

Here is the headline:

"Print and Digital Books Reflect Seasonal Sales Patterns According to AAP Publishers' April 2011 Report"

Here is my commentary on March's report that I posted in May:

http://walkitout.livejournal.com/724289.html

Here is the table I posted in May, so you don't have to go extract it, with April added:

2010 2011

Jan 32 70
Feb ~30 90
Mar 28 69
Apr 28 73

If it isn't perfectly clear, that is, in rounded millions, AAP's reported e-book sales by month with columns by year. While you can make a case for a seasonal pattern (and the press release indicates publishers are making that case), it's not the first argument that springs to my mind.

Downloaded audiobooks had a good month year-over-year with over 20% growth.

It's hard to know how one might go about comparing the April AAP dollar numbers with Amazon's statement about unit sales for April (100 v 105, paper v ebook). If I think of something particularly clever, I may add to this post. Right now, the prospect of trying to guess average pricing and converting the dollars to units is making me feel tired.

ETA: Apparently not that tired. Also, A. is napping and R. took T. to his therapeutic riding lesson and I'm bored with the TV machine.

I took the table of April numbers and assigned each category an average unit price to convert the revenue in dollars to units. If you think that the numbers I picked are far enough off that it matters, please feel free to chime in with better suggestions.



Adult HC 111 / 15 = 7.4
Adult PB 96 / 10 = 9.6
Ebooks 73 / 8 = 9.125
Relig 48 / 9 = 5.3
Child HC 41 / 12 = 3.4
Child PB 37 / 9 = 4.1
MMPB 29 / 7 - 4.14

This gives me a total of 34 million trade excluding ebooks and 9 million ebooks. That's very different from Amazon's 100 all-paper vs. 105 ebooks.

105% of 34 is about 36. (Please don't snivel about rounding at this point. I'm barely holding it together as it is.) What would an addition 27 million units of ebooks imply at Amazon? If those were .99 ebooks, it's probably not something that a publisher should be worrying about. Much. If those were 2.99 ebooks, again, not too scary. But if Amazon's average unit price per ebook on that stuff that's not getting counted by AAP because it's from a non-member (and maybe a very nontraditional publisher) is getting up in the range of the mass market paperbacks, I think they should be getting a little concerned.

It's possible my unit difference is off. High price estimate on ebook in conjunction with low price estimate on paper books would have the effect of making paper sales look more substantial than they are (as a unit calculation). If the price estimate on ebooks is too low and the price estimate on paper books is too high, then paper sales look lower vs. ebooks than they are. Anything that is part one and part the other (consistently high estimates or consistently low) should mostly tend to cancel out.

Criticisms of the calculation (whether error in doing the math or in the assumptions) are welcome and I will try to incorporate them into the analysis.

ETA: It occurs to me that I've picked average unit numbers reflecting what I think the total revenue was, but the publisher numbers are probably revenue to the publisher NOT revenue to the publisher plus revenue to the retailer. It's not completely unfair to characterize the publisher/retailer cut as 50-50; if you want to adjust for that, the implication is that the AAP numbers represent approximately 53 million fewer ebook sales than Amazon had during the same month, vs. approximately 27 million fewer ebook sales.

ETAYA: Actually, I think the publishers should be concerned even at the $2.99 price point. That would imply they were leaving the equivalent of their total children's/YA revenue for someone else to collect instead of them.

2.99 * .5 * 53 is a shade under 80 million to the publisher. I wonder if this is how Amazon convinced the publishers to sign up for that Sunshine Deals promotion?

ETA Still more:

http://ebookcomments.blogspot.com/2011/06/april-2011-ebook-sales.html

It looks like this guy is estimating revenue sales for ebooks at 95 million:

"When I include my estimate of non-AAP sales, ebooks are almost (no quite) quadruple MMPB sales (94.9M vs. 28.5M)." That would be 22 million revenue over the AAP figure (about 73 million). If my "missing units" is correct, it would imply a very, very low price point on the sales (under a dollar price for the customer). He explains his methodology and believes he is undershooting on the ebook estimate.

"I do an estimate on 'non-AAP' ebook sales. 10% in December 2009 and 20% in December 2010. I then just extrapolate a linear trend... I know. Two very approximate data points and then an extrapolation."

It's hard to know exactly how to incorporate this thinking into my approach (two super ridiculously simple and almost certainly wrong models go into a bar . . .).

A quick check-in at some authors blogs who post about ebooks

And now, in my traditional, hey, I've checked out the AAP numbers, let's see what other people are saying roundup . . .

Konrath continues to plug his preferred model for the industry going forward: agents helping authors get their book out into the world:

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/06/estributors-redux.html

Barry Eisler clarifying why agents helping authors do this are not traditional publishers, where Amazon's T&M fits into this mix, etc.:

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/06/attack-of-self-publishing-memes-guest.html

Konrath summarizing anecdotal evidence that ebook sales were down in June (posted slightly before the AAP numbers for April came out), and speculating about why that might be.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/06/ebook-sales-down.html

This is by contrast with Nate Hoffelder's post at The Digital Reader. He believes that new ereaders drive spikes in demand for ebooks and expects a spike in June e-books because of B&N and Kobo product launches:

http://www.the-digital-reader.com/2011/06/23/us-ebook-sales-continue-to-plateau-in-april-while-print-sales-drop/

(AAP June numbers won't be out for another couple months, and they probably won't shine appreciable light on this puzzle when they _do_ come out.)

(And, despite it being wildly off topic for my areas of interest, a post about MWA rules with a big comments thread even for Konrath's blog:

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/06/mwabnsp-mystery-writers-of-america-but.html)

David Derrico's post about the April numbers:

http://www.davidderrico.com/april-2011-e-book-sales-stats/

He has a nice table of 13 months of ebook sales revenue according to AAP.

And now my son would like to go to the playground, only I think he's about to wake up his sister. Ooops.

Do Not Price Compare to Unavailable

http://www.evilgeniuschronicles.org/wordpress/2011/06/15/more-lost-ebook-sales/

"I went to see if it was available for the Kindle and what the price was and guess what, it’s yet another one where the Kindle version is priced higher than the paper edition. I know some of my friends say that when that happens, they just buy the paper edition. Not so for me. It makes me angry enough that I buy neither one."

This is what happens when you look at the little editions box on Amazon and misread it. The kindle edition in the screen capture is $12.95. The hardcover is $14.85 from Amazon. There are third party sellers, but I think the author's error was comparing the book to the paperback edition, which is listed at $10.20, but when you check, won't actually be available until December 2011 (at which point the kindle edition will be a whole lot less).

If you're _really_ serious about this argument, you should wait until everything is used for a penny before buying it.

Does Not Follow

"the presence of a lock implies there is something valuable within".

From around location 401 in the kindle edition of _When Gadgets Betray Us_.

That is a false statement on the phase of it. We lock up all kinds of things because they are dangerous and we're trying to avoid liability. The lock is supposed to community "we want you to stay out of here". If you go through the lock and get hurt, we can say, "hey, it's not our fault".

Locks are, in general, a way to communicate, "we want you to stay out of here". If you read anything at all about the history of Unix, it is abundantly clear that the designers understood what they were doing and why they were doing it.

I _hate_ seeing idiots thrash about and break things.

Weird Advice about Car Registration

If you're driving around in a car, that car's registration is supposed to be available, along with your license to drive and, depending on the state you are in, proof of insurance, should a police officer request it. Generally speaking, the car-associated parts of this requirement (registration and proof of insurance) are kept in the glove compartment.

This really incredibly awful book I am reading (_When Gadgets Betray Us_) says that Edmunds advises you "never to leave registration or other personal information in the glove compartment". I have not been able to find a source on the Edmunds assertion (so don't believe it until you do), however I've found other police departments and other web sites who duplicate it. Some of them specifically advise you to carry the registration in your purse or wallet.

Years ago, I had a friend P. P. had an older Mustang (no, I don't recall the year. At the time, I knew a bunch of guys driving older mustangs and a lot of them were from the 1960s so possibly P.'s was too or maybe I just misremembered). P. had a car stereo. You know where this is going. So when P. replaced the stereo in the late 1980s/early 1990s, he got one of the ones where the face plate pops off. When he parked it when out for the evening, he'd take the face plat with him.

P. got a really nice leather jacket. He put this face plate in this really nice leather jacket and then, because he was used to wearing a really crappy denim jacket that not even a homeless person would steal, left it at the table when he was dancing. Needless to say, the jacket and the car stereo face plate were gone when he returned to the table. Not a good night for P. And no way to replace it.

That's probably the best example I could ever come up with for why I don't take things out of glove compartments and carry them around on my person. I'm not the kind of person to misplace my wallet or purse on a regular basis, but I'm not going to create that kind of hassle for myself, either. I would understand advice to not leave the title with the car (duh) but this advice seems really strange to me. The theory is that thieves could somehow use the registration to sell the car, which strikes me as wildly implausible.

Finally, and this is really the clincher for me, my husband and I carry keys for each other's vehicles, because we never really know which one we're going to be driving. If we had to remember to transfer paperwork back and forth, well, let's just say _that_ would never happen. This piece of advice seems to assume one-driver-per-vehicle, and thus strikes me as asinine and stupid. Even if we made copies (would that satisfy a police officer? I have no idea) so we each had copies for each vehicle, think about the implications of carrying _that much_ additional paperwork around in our wallets or my purse all the time.

Thoughts?

Garage Door Openers

Vamosi is worried about garage door openers and Adam "Major Malfunction" Laurie's description of how easy it is to rattle through all the possible combinations and open them.

Here's my response to that:

http://www.myfoxaustin.com/dpp/news/local/32910-Thieves-Use-Garage-Door-Openers-to-Enter-Homes

That's from March 2010:

"Police say that in several recent burglaries a thief or thieves broke into cars, found garage door openers, and used those openers to steal items from inside homes. The burglaries happened in western Travis County in the Preserve subdivision and in Barton Creek."

If you have the skill to put together a Linux script to try all the combinations to open a garage door, you can find something much better to do with your skill than to break into random suburban houses. Also, there are usually much, much easier ways to break into random suburban houses than opening the garage door. For those rare cases where it might actually be worth it to break in (even to the skillful person with the Linux script), if you don't have a plan for the security system, you don't have much time to clean the place out.

I may need to stop reading this book. It is incredibly bad.

When Books Betray Us: Not a Book Review of _When Gadgets Betray Us_

Kindle edition of _When Gadgets Betray Us: The Dark Side of Our Infatuation With New Technologies_ by Robert Vamosi, published by Basic Books (<--- You would think I would know better by now. *sigh*)

Have you ever met a person who gets precisely as excited and distressed about burned toast (when there's oodles of time, a whole loaf of bread, no competition for the toaster and the smoke alarm has not been set off) as about a third degree burn covering half of an infant's body? That's more or less what it's like reading Vamosi's book.

I should have expected this. There are not a lot of reviews over at Amazon, and it has become abundantly clear that the celebrity favorable comments are from people who are salivated about (positively) by Vamosi in the text. I was reading it because my opinion of the book was requested by someone. And it is published by Basic. None of these are good signs.

This is "Not a Book Review" because I've decided to terminate my relationship with this book while less than one fifth of the way through the book. I've blogged repeatedly over the last two days about problems major and minor with this book. But I'm going to summarize (briefly) what's wrong with it.

(1) He talked to a bunch of "hardware hackers" with no apparent sense of hardware hacking history. That is, a bunch of very clever young men who are very full of themselves and who think that committing crimes because they can, and because their motives are not "evil" is somehow a good idea. These people are annoying, and they can never be bothered to actually sit still and _listen_ to how social constructs provide security, not technology -- and then they complain because no one listens to them. The text is pervaded with this perspective.

(2) The author and the people he quotes repeatedly recommend that security be included "from the beginning", not as an add on, and that schedules be extended and blah blah bleeping blah. If you are silly enough to believe you can design security in "from the beginning" you are, honestly, probably not able to be helped. This is an arms race. Taking yourself out of the race so you can devise the perfect defense is Not Actually an Option.

(3) The author seems unable to make very basic value judgments about whether security is worth expending any effort or resources on, much less predict whether the end user will give a shit. In fact, the book as a whole is intended to convince end users to care about security and take particular actions as a result. The actions he suggests vary between probably innocuous and potentially expensive/unsafe. Probably the most useful thing he said in the first fifth of the book was don't leave your car idling unattended.

I actually care a lot about security and think about it a lot. There are some straightforward comparisons that can be made about security decisionmaking and health decisionmaking. For example, the health care community is extremely worked up currently about everyone using effective sunblock.

Yet:

http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/332009/title/The_power_of_D_

"Holick, who chaired the committee that put out the Endocrine Society guidelines, acknowledges a risk of skin cancer from sun exposure in his 2010 book The Vitamin D Solution. But he and others have estimated, based on rates of cancer in the northern and southern United States, that lives saved from greater sun exposure would far exceed those lost to skin cancer.

Evidence for some cancers, he says, is better than others. “If I were to pick one cancer where vitamin D is sure to matter, it would be colon,” he says. “The second would be breast cancer.”

When I take off my watch, I can see pale skin contrasting with where I'm collecting vitamin D -- but I am careful not to get too much direct sunlight at a time and have avoided any burns for years (there was this few minutes in Las Vegas that turned out to be a mistake, or I could say "decades" . . .).

And it's not just vitamin D. Riding bicycles and many other forms of physical activity have inherent risk, but the very safe thing (staying inside pursuing more sedentary pleasures) has some substantial risks as well.

I don't worry too much about someone driving through my neighborhood opening garage doors (or walking around, I suppose). I _did_ worry about the guy who was going to houses, knocking, and when no one answered, entering and stealing shit. But that guy got caught pretty fast and locked up and I went back to leaving the door unlocked during the day so when my walking partner came to visit I didn't have to go unlock it for her. There is so damn much data out there, that unless you have some reason to believe some person or persons has it in for you (say, because you're a particularly unpleasant person who has made a lot of people mad, or are a particularly wealthy and/or famous person who has attracted a lot of crazies), you can basically make every conceivable mistake with every gadget you own and the worst of the consequences will involve some extra conversations with financial institutions and/or having to get a new credit card or whatever, or eventually changing some of your Facebook settings because you've acquired a cyberstalker.

Honestly, dropping your cell phone in the john is a bigger hassle. And _that_ is _common_ (altho they are getting easier to dry out successfully, now that so many of them are single-chip designs).

If you happen to cross paths with someone who hacks your stuff and lets you know about it "for your own good", make sure you tell everyone you possibly can what an awful person they are. If you live with them, kick them out and get a restraining order if need be. Security comes from enforcing community standards. Not through better technology.

If you actually _do_ want to hang onto your stuff, there are some basic strategies to pursue that are worthwhile:

(1) Don't leave your car running unattended. (That really is good advice.)
(2) Don't blog about your vacation until after you have returned home.
(3) Make sure your stuff has people around it most of the time (be home, or have someone keeping an eye on it; park in an area with lots of people looking at the cars who might take action if they see something weird). Security systems are almost all based on the idea that you want to slow the bad guy down until people show up; if people are there, you don't need much security.
(4) Match your environment. If what you are wearing or carrying around or storing around your house is _really_ desirable compared to everything around it, it is a Target.
(5) Destroy paperwork with identifying numbers. If someone wants to grab information out of the air, they have to be there when the information is in the air. But if you leave a piece of paper around with a credit card number on it, it'll just keep sitting there being available.
(6) If you don't feel like doing security on your home computers/network, hire someone to do it for you. Firewalls are your friend.
(7) Know what phishing is, and if you make a mistake and turn over information, call the bank (or merchant or whatever affected account) immediately to change the information so it can't be exploited.
(8) Monitor statements of your financial activities.
(9) If you don't trust the people you live with, and you have to live with them anyway, find a way to effectively quarantine sensitive material from them.
(10) Don't leave your bike near a university or other high bike theft area. But if you have to do so (because that's where you attend school/live/work), lock your bike (I'm not even going to get into the details; you can discuss it with the employees of a local bike shop) and take bits of it with you that can be readily separated from the bike, and don't use a bike you cannot afford to replace.

And, just for yucks: Don't talk about how much cash you are carrying.

I really, really, really do care about security. Honest. I do. But when I'm busy caring about security, worrying about how someone might freeze up my DVD player or, horrors! know what I'm watching doesn't even cross my mind. And it probably shouldn't cross a DVD manufacturers mind, either, because they should not be focused on a dying product category like DVD players. They should be thinking about video streaming devices. Etc.